a(A)ugust by AKILAH OLIVER, with BRENDA IIJIMAALYSHA WOOD Reviews
a(A)ugust by Akilah Oliver, with collages by Brenda Iijima
(Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2006)
Akilah Oliver’s latest chapbook, a(A)ugust, floods the reader with the color orange, invoking the autumnal month ablaze with red and gold leaves. An august presence, venerable and majestic. A season of loss and imminent death. Or rather, change and transformation.
Collages by Brenda Iijima, taken from Pakistani and English language newspapers, make up the chapbook’s cover and also appear on the title page. They mirror the cut-up appearance of Oliver’s text, which was collaged from such sources as The New York Times and works by Jacques Derrida. Recalling the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina during late August 2005, and the Lebanon/Israel conflict of August 2006, Oliver inserts her own language within the terminology of terror, war, and popular media, allowing it to inhabit and mutate inside of these structures.
“What then is to cross the ultimate border?”
leave the Fernald nuclear site in Ohio How and
where do you construct spaces of desire? Salvage
“what should be understood by the end”
a(A)ugust’s form roams from newspaper columns to collage, to paragraphs of gorgeous, emotive dissonance. The last four pages seem to be further cut-ups of previous text, ending in a final page consisting of composite word fragments and sounds. Oliver speaks inside of the Homeland Security Advisory System’s Level Orange “High Risk of Terrorist Attack” code language. a(A)ugust is indeed a “speech act,” a body of activated and activating speech forms. Her tongue is then a performative device, enunciating alongside “government speak” and journalism, creating intimate ruptures.
i touched you, the
beginning again post-Katrina New Orleans, now showing at the Met to
remember every thing you couldn’t say &i outline your lips
with my fingers your acne is gone
Variations in typeface visually demarcate Oliver’s cut-ups, so that each piece functions as a snippet of “news.” This allows the edges of and borders between words and phrases to become active, magnetic spaces, across which multiple opportunities for signification and reference erupt. Oliver questions the forces that dynamite or break apart speech, speaking within a corrupt political language that cannot be trusted. She asks, “Is the body the / place where the sentence ends?” Are we willing and able to continue?
Alysha Wood holds an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University, where she wrote her critical thesis on the poetry of Padcha Tuntha-obas in relation to other poly-lingual texts. Wood’s work has appeared in Glimpse Abroad, “Focus on the Fabulous: Colorado GLBT Voices,” and is forthcoming in an Asian American female poets anthology. Wood is also a contributor to Feminist Review. She thanks Brenda Iijima for help as regards information concerning the source texts.